In 1990, Gerald Conaty was hired as senior curator of ethnology at the Glenbow Museum, with the particular mandate of improving the museum’s relationship with Aboriginal communities. That same year, the Glenbow had taken its first tentative steps toward repatriation by returning sacred objects to First Nations’ peoples. These efforts drew harsh criticism from members of the provincial government. Was it not the museum’s primary legal, ethical, and fiduciary responsibility to ensure the physical preservation of its collections? Would the return of a sacred bundle to ceremonial use not alter and diminish its historical worth and its value to the larger society? Undaunted by such criticism, Conaty oversaw the return of more than fifty medicine bundles to Blackfoot and Cree communities between the years of 1990 and 2000, at which time the First Nations Sacred Ceremonial Objects Repatriation Act (FNSCORA)—still the only repatriation legislation in Canada—was passed. “Repatriation,” he wrote, “is a vital component in the creation of an equitable, diverse, and respectful society.” We Are Coming Home is the story of the highly complex process of repatriation as described by those intimately involved in the work, notably the Piikuni, Siksika, and Kainai elders who provided essential oversight and guidance. We also hear from the Glenbow Museum’s president and CEO at the time and from an archaeologist then employed at the Provincial Museum of Alberta who provides an insider’s view of the drafting of FNSCORA. These accounts are framed by Conaty’s reflections on the impact of museums on First Nations, on the history and culture of the Niitsitapi, or Blackfoot, and on the path forward. With Conaty’s passing in August of 2013, this book is also a tribute to his enduring relationships with the Blackfoot, to his rich and exemplary career, and to his commitment to innovation and mindful museum practice.
We Are Coming Home is the story of the highly complex process of repatriation as described by those intimately involved in the work, notably the Piikuni, Siksika, and Kainai elders who provided essential oversight and guidance. These accounts are framed by Conaty’s reflections on the impact of museums on First Nations, on the history and culture of the Niitsitapi, or Blackfoot, and on the path forward.
AcknowledgementsPrologue / Robert R. Janes Beginnings / Gerald T. Conaty 1 The Development of Museums and Their Effects on First Nations / Gerald T. Conaty 2 Niitsitapiisinni: Our Way of Life / Gerald T. Conaty 3 Repatriation Among the Piikani / Allan Pard 4 Reviving Traditions / Jerry Potts 5 Repatriation Experiences of the Kainai / Frank Weasel Head 6 Bringing Back Iitskinaiksi at Siksika / Herman Yellow Old Woman 7 Reviving Our Ways at Siksika / Chris McHugh8 Moving Toward Repatriation / John W. Ives9 The Blackfoot Repatriation: A Personal Epilogue / Robert R. Janes 10 Moving Forward / Gerald T. Conaty Appendix 1: Terms of Reference for the Glenbow Museum’s First Nations Advisory Council Appendix 2: Memorandum of Understanding Between the Mookaakin Cultural and Heritage Society and the Glenbow-Alberta InstituteContributors / Index
Gerald T. Conaty was the director of Indigenous studies at the Glenbow Museum. He leaves as his legacy more than thirty articles and books, including Powerful Images: Portrayals of Native America, co-authored with Sarah E. Boehme. In 2003, he was inducted into the Kainai Chieftainship and given the name Sikapiistamix (Grey Bull).
"I brought a sacred headdress to an aaawaahskataiki (ceremonial grandparent) of the women's Maotoki society. Before leaving the museum, I had stuffed the headpiece with acid-free tissue, carefully folded the trailer around more tissue, and placed the entire piece in an acid-free archival box, padding out space with yet more tissue. When I brought the package into the elder's home, she gased with horror. The tissue was rapidly discarded and the headdress was rolled tightly, wrapped in a cloth, and secured with twine. It was, in fact, swaddled, much the way a newborn baby is enclosed for care and protection. Here, again, was an alternative way of understanding what these sacred objects are and how they should be cared for. Over time, I have also come to appreciate that the use fo these items is not detrimental to their well-being. In fact, their participation in ceremonies keeps them alive and vibrant."
“A fascinating view into the practice of returning sacred materials from large institutions to their communities of origin. […] We Are Coming Home is a story of hope and perhaps an ideal that all of us should strive for—true reconciliation.”
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